Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo (9780451476418, Amazon)
Renato loves living in Florence, Italy. He particularly loves all of the art throughout the city, both in the museums and on the streets. His favorite statue is the stone lion in the piazza. As war approaches Florence, everything changes. Brick shelters are built around the statues to protect them. Renato wants to protect the lion and has a dream that the lion and his father helps him. Their family flees to the United States and Renato doesn’t return for many years. Has his lion been safe through war and time?
In her author’s note, DiLorenzo talks about how she has melded history and fiction together in this dreamy picture book. World War II did threaten Florence and they did protect the statues in this way. The lion statue exists, but Renato himself is fictional and the timeframe has been altered to work in the book. DiLorenzo’s prose is very readable and the story is immensely strong and well structured.
The art adds to the dreamy effect with the softness of the watercolors. The dream sequences are particularly nice, as they show even more of Florence than the story could have otherwise. Readers will love the lion as Renato does thanks to the wise and gentle look on its face.
The power of art and dreams come together in this wonderful historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Chirri & Chirra in the Tall Grass by Kaya Doi (9781592702251, Amazon)
This is the second book in this series that has come to the United States from Japan. In this adventure, sisters Chirri and Chirra ride their bikes into a tall stand of grass. Once inside, they follow a bee to its home where they get to taste honey sponge cake. From there, they follow some flower chafers to their home where the chafers share some leaf juice with them. When a lizard passes by, the girls follow him to his home and they make candies together. As darkness falls, the girls return back home.
Doi’s books are completely unique. The two characters react to nature and the foods offered them with wonder and curiosity. There is no fear here, just adventure and joy. The books celebrate nature and investigation. There is a strong element of fantasy as well as the creatures talk and cook, but that whimsical part just strengthens the honesty of the natural pieces.
The illustrations are filled with small details that make these books better for one-on-one sharing. These are books to pore over and enjoy together, discussing the details. The illustrations show close ups of the food and drink, small touches making them all the more appealing.
Look forward to book three this fall, this is a delicious Japanese import. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.